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Sunday, February 05, 2012

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Why thank you, Bill, for this thoughtful response. I will do my best to clarify what I take the religion of my upbringing to be saying.

First, I find it odd that you argue against the Mormon conception of God by asserting Anselm's, the one I used to contrast with the Mormon conception of God to begin with. Don't you find that a little bit question- begging? I think it's best to say that Anselm's is a conception of God, not the-one-and-only conception of God. I'm certainly not going to tell a professed believer that he is actually an atheist because the thing he calls "God" doesn't have the modal properties that some philosophers ascribe to him. An argument against the Mormon idea of God that starts off with a premise like this will never convince a Mormon interlocutor.

Second, I must clarify a couple of points: Mormons believe that God literally is human, not just anthropomorphic. But not just any human! A divine human, a glorified human, but nonetheless one that literally inhabits space and time and has our image in the literal sense. One star is said to be closest to him, but, as far as I know, any talk of a planet where he lives is, strictly speaking, specultative.

Third, I think that it is nonetheless available for the Mormon interlocutor to claim that God is, nonetheless, a necessary being. For being human does not entail being purely material--that depends on your conception of man, doesn't it? (I don't think Aquinas or even Aristotle would describe us as purely material) In fact, as McMurrin explains, Mormon metaphysics holds that every self is necessary in the same sense God is. Your "intelligence" has always existed and is uncreated. Mormons, unlike other Christians, are happy to allow for a multitude of things that are co-eternal with God. So, God is necessary after all for Mormons, but so are we all. I suspect this answer isn't going to sit well with you, but there you have it.

Moreover, it seems to me that you did not answer the main thrust of my argument. The Mormon conception of God, strange as it may seem, captures an element of what's in the Bible that is wholly missing from the God of Anselm. The God of the Bible loved the world, and loves you and me, and is supposed to be an object of our love. I know what it is like to love and be loved by other humans. I do not know what it is like to love and be loved by anything approximating Anselm's God. Anselm's God is literally and strictly identical to all of his properties. So, justice itself loves the world and sent it's only son to die for me? I am supposed to literally be in a personal relationship with justice itself. And with truth itself. All at once. How can you possibly think that situation is less absurd than the idea of an embodied God? Clearly, the Mormon conception is much better situated to capture the idea of a personal God than the "simple" competitor.

Maybe this goes to show something atheists have been saying for a long time: religious believers are keen on seeing the absurdity in each other's doctrines, but have a blind spot for the absurdities in their own. It seems that for cases like this, we should stop arguing and frankly adopt psychological explanations for what seems absurd. You were raised with one idea of God, I with another. That explains why the Mormon God seems strange to you, and Anselm's God to me.

I think in my (at this moment unposted) response I mentioned God's identity with his properties. If so, that was a mistake. I meant his identity with his attributes.

I think I mentioned before that Giles Fraser was one of my tutors for my theology diploma. Giles, although a kind of philosopher (he studied Nietszche and occasionally quoted Wittgenstein) absolutely hated the scholastic, Anselmian conception of God as a logical abstraction from the ideas of all-knowing, all-powerful, eternal etc. He had three favourite passages from the Old Testament.

1. Gen. 3:8 where God is said to be "walking in paradise in the afternoon". http://www.latinvulgate.com/verse.aspx?t=0&b=1&c=3

Exodus 4:24 Where Moses meets God in an inn, and God tries to kill him (but fails, despite being all-powerful) http://www.latinvulgate.com/verse.aspx?t=0&b=2&c=4

Exodus 33:21-23 Where God says that Moses will be allowed to see God, but only by hiding in a hole in a rock and looking at the nether parts of God. http://www.latinvulgate.com/verse.aspx?t=0&b=2&c=33

The conception of God implied in these passages is close to the first end of your spectrum, I think. However, Giles overlaid on this a sort of postmodern mythical interpretation in which we don't really believe in this anthropomorphic depiction, but try to take it seriously in some other way (a way which never made sense to me).

I'm certainly not going to tell a professed believer that he is actually an atheist because the thing he calls "God" doesn't have the modal properties that some philosophers ascribe to him.

Are you going to call a professed believer an atheist when you find out that what he calls God is a very powerful Marlon Brando, and the believer knows it?

Maybe this goes to show something atheists have been saying for a long time: religious believers are keen on seeing the absurdity in each other's doctrines, but have a blind spot for the absurdities in their own.

Atheists have been saying this for a long time, but frankly I think it's an absurd claim itself. Especially in the context of talking about a conception of God that was influenced by non-Christians (Aristotle, Plato, etc) - that alone speaks heavily against the idea that 'religious believers' regard others' religious beliefs as absurd, full stop. Doubly so considering Christianity itself is preceded by Judaism, with Judaism not treated as some wretched thing to entirely eschew in terms of doctrine. Christians - Catholics particularly - are quite keen at finding value and truth in others' doctrines, even if missing essentials.

Beyond that, even Christians who are close to an Anselmian view nevertheless differ - contrast Scotus with Aquinas, for example, or modern Thomists with William Lane Craig. I happen to think the Anselmian view is entirely adequate, in part because understanding love - true, essential love - doesn't strike me as quite so obvious. Or justice, or... But if someone were to judge it insufficient, that wouldn't mean the mormon concept of God would be anywhere close to the only option available. Far from it.

It could be that the mormon concept of God - as laudable as many aspects of mormonism are - really is absurd, end of story, and the Anselmian is not. (Or maybe the reverse, you'll probably say.) The fact that people end up at a point of unresolvable disagreement doesn't mean we should then kick the can down the road to psychological appeals.

Finally, amateur though I am, I think you're mistaken with regards to a necessary being. But I'll leave that to others to comment on.

Thank you for this great blog, Bill! I´d have one simple question. You said,

"Briefly, God cannot be a physical being because no physical being is a necessary being, and God is a necessary being."

In studying Leibnizian cosmological arguments, one objection that some people find compelling is that some physical part of the universe is the necessary being. But according to you, this won´t do. So, why "no physical being is a necessary being"? Are there other arguments for this than appeals to our modal intuitions?

Thanks!

Why does it matter if the God of Anselm is remote and cold and difficult to relate to, or if the God of the Mormons sounds ridiculous? Whoever has the better arguments wins the day, not the one who can appeal to religious sentiments not everyone shares.

Thomas,

One reason why physical beings aren't necessary is that they go in and out of existence all the time.

Yet even if a physical particular existed necessarily, nevertheless it would not be "ultimate" and there would still be need of something immaterial to act as the ground of its being. This because physical beings are composites of two principles, you might say: form and matter.

Consider a dog. A dog is not just the collection of organs, cells, atoms, etc., that it is composed out of (its matter), but rather all those components standing in certain relations to one another (i.e., its matter with form). The dog is the composite formed of that organic matter and that organization.

Now, the organic matter doesn't have to take the form of a dog -- and clearly so, since it still exists when the dog dies. And the form doesn't explain why the matter has taken it upon itself, since, apart from being actually instantiated by anything, it has no power to bring about changes in the material world. So there must be something beyond the material particular which grounds the unity of its form and matter, and this clearly cannot itself be a composite of such similar principles.

Now, take note that it is no explanation of the unity of one physical particular's form and matter (which, in other words, is its existence) to posit another physical particular, or even an infinite regress of physical particulars; this because the explanandum (that which is to be explained, namely, the unity of form and matter in a physical particular) is in the explanans (the explanation offered).

For these reasons, even if something physical existed necessarily, it does not follow that it is what is most ultimate and that there is no need of an immaterial ground of all being; on the contrary, even with the supposition of a necessary physical being, there must be an immaterial ground of being.

Let's define a god as "an appropriate object of worship" and God as the only such being. There seems to be no incoherence for someone to say "I believe that God understood that way, actually exists, but it seems possible that the Greek atomists could have been correct about how the universe was organized and God might not have existed." That person is not an atheist, whatever Anselm had to say about it.

I guess if someone thinks a really powerful Marlan Brando is the sole appropriate object of worship, he/she thinks he is God. I see no reductio here.

I don't accept the view that the Anselmian understanding of God is "cold" and "repugnant," much less unbiblical. Traditional Christianity, i.e. Catholicism, Orthodoxy and parts of Protestantism, accepts the Augustinian interpretation of Exodus 3:14 ("I am that I am") as God revealing that He is Being Itself, not just one being among others like you and I (see City of God, XII.2).

This reminds me of Pascal's distinction between the "God of the Philosophers" and the "God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac." While not exactly the same thing, it seems to me like the Mormon conception of God is rooted in the same "feel" that lies behind this distinction: that the God of the Philosophers is "[no] more than an idea" and as such it cannot be worshipped and revered.

What can I say? Dr. Vallicella rejects this view, and I agree with him.

Edward,

I thought Giles Fraser's book on Neitzsche, *Redeeming Nietzsche,* was very good. Took copious notes, but never got around to 'blogging' them. Thanks for the Biblical passages. Obviously, God does not have feet or 'nether parts,' so those passages cannot be taken literally. It is not just that they would be false if taken literally, but absurd. The Creator of every physical and indeed every contingent thing cannot have testicles . . . That is absurd in the sense of 'incoherent' because the ontological ground of every physical thing cannot itself be a physical thing.

Spencer writes,

>>Second, I must clarify a couple of points: Mormons believe that God literally is human, not just anthropomorphic. But not just any human! A divine human, a glorified human, but nonetheless one that literally inhabits space and time and has our image in the literal sense. One star is said to be closest to him, but, as far as I know, any talk of a planet where he lives is, strictly speaking, specultative.<<

One question concerns the exact sense of 'anthropomorphic.' I take it to mean 'having the form of a human being.' Now I have the form of a human being, so I am anthropomorphic and also literally human.

I though you said in conversation that there is some planet (Kobar??)where he lives. But no matter. It is simply incoherent to suppose that God is literally a human being. For a human being is an animal, and an animal is a physical thing, and no physical thing can be the creator of all physical things. Is that not perfectly obvious? If God were a physical thing and the creator of all such things then he would be the creator of himself -- which is absurd.

Now Mormons must have some sort of answer to this sort of objection. I am curious as to what it might be.

If the Mormon reading of imago dei were correct, then God has lungs, anus, etc. -- which again is absurd.

Certain God conceptions can be ruled out by reason alone. For example God cannot be identical to Eric Clapton or to golf or to women or to an idea in my mind or to the square root of pi -- or to a man, divine or not, hovering off in space somewhere and literally nearer one star than others.

Surely you agree with me.

Forgive me for speculating psychologically, but perhaps the reason you are now an atheist is that you have come to see the absurdity of the Mormon God-conception.

Spencer continues,

>>Third, I think that it is nonetheless available for the Mormon interlocutor to claim that God is, nonetheless, a necessary being. For being human does not entail being purely material--that depends on your conception of man, doesn't it? (I don't think Aquinas or even Aristotle would describe us as purely material) In fact, as McMurrin explains, Mormon metaphysics holds that every self is necessary in the same sense God is. Your "intelligence" has always existed and is uncreated. Mormons, unlike other Christians, are happy to allow for a multitude of things that are co-eternal with God. So, God is necessary after all for Mormons, but so are we all. I suspect this answer isn't going to sit well with you, but there you have it.<<

Of course, being human does not entail being purely material, but it does entail being an animal, and hence being material. If God is literally human, as you said, then he is a mterial being and that precludes him from being a necessary being.

Spencer goes on:

>>Moreover, it seems to me that you did not answer the main thrust of my argument. The Mormon conception of God, strange as it may seem, captures an element of what's in the Bible that is wholly missing from the God of Anselm. The God of the Bible loved the world, and loves you and me, and is supposed to be an object of our love. I know what it is like to love and be loved by other humans. I do not know what it is like to love and be loved by anything approximating Anselm's God. Anselm's God is literally and strictly identical to all of his properties. So, justice itself loves the world and sent it's only son to die for me? I am supposed to literally be in a personal relationship with justice itself. And with truth itself. All at once. How can you possibly think that situation is less absurd than the idea of an embodied God? Clearly, the Mormon conception is much better situated to capture the idea of a personal God than the "simple" competitor.<<

I don't deny that there is a serious and perhaps insurmountable difficult in conceiving of a God that is both a person and simple. (One problem, very roughly, is that a simple God is pure act whereas a person is free and as such must harbor unrealized potentialities.)

Let us assume that the simple God and the Mormon God are equal in point of absurdity or rational incomprehensibility. That still leaves the other option I mentioned, namely a God who is a bodiless person but not simple. Surely it would be preferable to the Mormon conception.

But I am not sure we should assume that the simple and Mormon God are equal in point of absurdity. There are very powerful reasons for the simplicity doctrine. Do Mormons have any equally powerful reasons for taking God to be literally a man? Just asking!

I should add that it is important not to confuse being a person with being a human being. If you insist that God must be a person and that a person cannot be simple, then you may well be right; but it doesn't follow that God must therefore be a human being.

Steven,

that is a very nice argument, but it assumes the aristotelian, hylemorphic distinction between prime matter and substantial form. For someone working within the 'modern' metaphysical framework, that is controversial. I´m looking for arguments that do not presuppose hylemorphism.

Finally, Spencer says,

>>Maybe this goes to show something atheists have been saying for a long time: religious believers are keen on seeing the absurdity in each other's doctrines, but have a blind spot for the absurdities in their own. It seems that for cases like this, we should stop arguing and frankly adopt psychological explanations for what seems absurd. You were raised with one idea of God, I with another. That explains why the Mormon God seems strange to you, and Anselm's God to me.<<

Yes, but let's not forget the blind spots of atheists. Religions are worldviews, but so is atheism/naturalism.

Stop arguing? Why? The whole point here is to work out a rationally defensible view of man in the ultimate scheme of things.

I hope you don't think that all ideas of God are equally good. I have given cogent arguments why crude anthropomorphism is out: I have demonstrated that God cannot be literally a man. Now perhaps you can demonstrate that God cannot be ontologically simple. Well, then we ought to work out an adequate concept of God if possible. And to do that we must argue.

Furthermore, when you recently became an atheist, were you moved by reasons or only by psychological forces?

By the way, I was not raised with the idea that God is simple. That is a very sophisticated notion that most Catholics have no idea of. It is an idea which, if acquired at all, is acquired late in life.

Thomas,

Thanks for the kind words. You ask why a physical being cannot be a necessary being. A necessary being is one that cannot not exist. But every physical being is possibly such as to not exist. For every physical being is subject to destruction. So no physical being is a necessary being.

Thanks for your response, Bill.

Some people have claimed that there may exist some physical being (or a collection of physical particles) that is NOT subject to destruction (maybe some necessarily existing part of the multiverse). So they would deny your claim that "every physical being is possibly such as to not exist". Do you think that this is just plain crazy according to our modal intuitions?

Bill,

You have indeed given me coherent arguments about why God cannot have a body. The problem is that all of them, without exception, appeal to ideas about God that Mormons reject. I know that Anselm can't accept the Mormon God. Big deal. Mormons do not believe that God is a necessary being. Nor do they believe that all of the physical universe are created. Mormons explicitly believe that matter is eternal, at least in some form. So arguments against the Mormon conception of God that start with these premises are unpersuasive. You are arguing against one conception of God by assuming a rival conception. Clearly, this is no way to persuade an interlocutor.

Kolab is the star closest to God.

I take it that Mormons are relying primarily on revelation for the idea that God is literally human, but impressive arguments have been mounted for finitism by B.H. Roberts and Sterling McMurrin.

I became an atheist when I was 20, about 6 years ago, so it wasn't that recent. What drove me out of the church was complicated, but I don't think the Mormon conception of God had anything to do with it. As I said, it seems a good deal less absurd than the rivals. I was bothered by the strict fideist attitude of the church and what I saw as a lack of intellectual honesty. ("A testimony comes in bearing it," I was told when I said I didn't have the witness of the Holy Ghost and so couldn't bear a testimony.) That and things like the incompatibility of the flood of Noah with the geological record. But my atheism has been sustained due to things like the inductive problem of evil, which is an utterly decisive argument for any God worthy of the name.

I can't for the life of me understand your insistence that God has a human body is absurd. You don't think Zeus is absurd do you? Now make Zeus the only god, one that gave his son so we could be saved. You've pretty much got Mormonism at that point.


I meant to say the inductive problem of evil is utterly decisive AGAINST any God worthy of the name.

I, too, was raised as a Mormon and think I paid close attention through many years of Sunday School. I recall a somewhat different teaching about the nature of God. The key phrase: "As Man is, God once was. As God is, man may become."

For Mormons, God was a man like us in essence, lived a proper, good or worthy life and was rewarded by becoming the Creator (along with the necessary Heavenly Mother) of this, His Universe. So He is a sort of glorified Man, but the exact substance he might be made of at this point was never specified (that I remember). It may be that He has been transformed into Pure Light, or whatnot. But He would still seem to be a contingent being in this case.

All of this is based only on the revelations of the Mormon prophets, not any kind of reasoning as far as I know. I concluded around age 11-12 that I couldn't beleive the Mormon story. For the record, 40 years later I am about to be baptized a Roman Catholic.

Robert,

I, too, recall hearing that phrase. I think your characterization of Mormonism is correct.

Hi Robert,

I rememember you. Weren't you the Reno chess player who moved to Alaska? We exchanged some e-mail way back in aught-four when we both took up the noble sport of blogging.

Whatever the problems with Roman Catholicism -- and there is no denying them -- it is without a doubt superior to Mormonism as you guys have been describing it to me. This is of course not to say that RCs are better people than Mormons. I would rather have Romney move in next door to me than Teddy Kennedy, not that either are within the realm of possibility, especially seeing as how Teddy shuffled off the mortal coil some time ago.

>>For Mormons, God was a man like us in essence, lived a proper, good or worthy life and was rewarded by becoming the Creator. . . .<< Rewarded by whom?

Funny that you should mention Giles Fraser's book on Nietzsche, Bill - he published an article in The Guardian yesterday entitled 'Nietzsche's passionate atheism was the making of me', on how the great man lead him to Christianity :

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/feb/05/passionate-atheism-me-christianity-nietzsche

Hi Bill,

Yes, I am that guy. I still blog occasionally at http://rlpchessblog.blogspot.com/

After many vicissitudes, I now work for the Governor of Alaska. "What a country!"

>>For Mormons, God was a man like us in essence, lived a proper, good or worthy life and was rewarded by becoming the Creator. . . .<< Rewarded by whom?

Presumably by another Guy who became a God; and son on...turtles all the way down.

>>Whatever the problems with Roman Catholicism -- and there is no denying them -- it is without a doubt superior to Mormonism as you guys have been describing it to me. This is of course not to say that RCs are better people than Mormons.<<

We are all going to get a Particular Judgement. Some more Particular than others.

"Kolab is the star closest to God."

FWIW: The wikipedia entry below reports that there is disagreement within Mormonism about whether Kolob is a planet or a star and whether God lives on or near it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolob

Spencer writes,

>>I can't for the life of me understand your insistence that God has a human body is absurd. You don't think Zeus is absurd do you? Now make Zeus the only god, one that gave his son so we could be saved. You've pretty much got Mormonism at that point.<<


I explained clearly why God cannot have a body. The problem here is that you use 'God' in an extremely loose way. Not just anything can be God: a teapot can't be God, an angry lunar unicorn can't be God, a superman in charge of lightning bolts can't be God . . . .

I don't even have to deny that there is this Mormon god (note the lower case) who hangs around the planet or star Kolab or Kolob (check out the Wikipedia article Scott has kindly pointed us to.) I don't have to deny it anymore than I have to deny Russell's celestial teapot or Abbey's lunicorn.

None of these things, even if they exist, can do the God-job. (note the uppercase).

Bill,

You have proved that you're unwilling to call the Mormon god God because the Mormons reject in their conception of God things that are a part of yours. This sounds like the disagreement you were supposed to resolve.

Spencer,

I'll give you the word 'God' to use any way you like. I'll us the word 'Schmod.' Here is a partial definition of 'Schmod': Schmod is the unique being that is the ultimate and self-existent source of the being, intelligibility, and value of everything distinct from it.

I have proven above that Schmod cannot be a human being, a concept, abstractum, or anthropomorphic projection. If Schmod exists, then Schmod is either a bodiless non-simple person or a bodiless simple person.

Bill, I'm not sure I'd take his advice about McMurrin. I think that's a terrible book myself. (Years and years ago on my blog which I'm trying to restart we did a reading club on his book) If you are interested in the arguments for Mormon conceptions of God the strongest ones are probably done by Blake Ostler who has a few books on Mormon theology. A few of his views are a little out of the mainstream of Mormon thought but most of his arguments apply to the majority of views within Mormon orthodoxy.

With regards to your comments I think the Mormon rejoinder would just be to ask why we define God like that. It seems clear that this didn't used to be the definition (see for instance Jon Levenson's Creation and the Persistence of Evil. Although he writes from more of a Jewish perspective nearly everything is pretty much how Mormons conceive of the issues.)

For a Mormon I think we simply bifurcate the issues of absolutism from theism. Put a different way we distinguish between existence and the universe relative to "God" and the interventionist God of the scriptures. I don't think Mormons need have much of a problem with the questions raised by Greek philosophy. It's just that we don't think they address the question of theism. To us (and obviously most Christians disagree) the error of most traditional Christianity is attempting to unify the questions of Athens and Jerusalem into the questions of one entity. It's interesting but in some ways this puts us philosophically closer to the atheist debate. (Not all Mormon thinkers agree with this distinction, but I think the majority do)

The Creator of every physical and indeed every contingent thing cannot have testicles . . . That is absurd in the sense of 'incoherent' because the ontological ground of every physical thing cannot itself be a physical thing.

How can one see this as absurd without denying the basic Christian doctrine that Jesus is fully God?

I was thinking of you, Clark. I'm glad you showed up here. I looked for McMurrin's book but someone swiped it from the ASU library. Thanks for the links.

Your third para above helps quite a bit, though I would like to see a definition of 'absolutism.' You're right, classical Christianity (Aquinas, e.g.) attempts to answer the questions of Athens and Jerusalem with one and the same entity, to paraphrase your way of putting it.

I stand in that tradition with one foot firmly planted in Athens and the other in Jersualem. But if one has to be amputated, it won't be the Hierosalmic (sp ?) leg! For example, if Genesis portrays God as walking around the garden, then I say that must be taken figuratively.

And I think you are right that Mormons are closer to the atheist debate, for most atheists think of God in ways that I consider crudely anthropomorphic. If that is the way I thought of God, then I would be an atheist too. Anyone who denies a false god is an atheist in respect of that god.

Clark,

Indeed, if Jesus has testicles, and Jesus = God, then God has testicles! Your question is a fair one. I may be a dual citizen, but my Athenian citizenship trumps the other. So my short answer is that I will adjust the Incarnation doctrine in such a way as to evade your reasonable objection. In any case I already have difficulties with the orthodox Chalcedonian Incarnation doctrine as I think I explain in my Trinity and Incarnation category.

This may push me in the direction of one of the Christological heresies, but if so, then so be it: the exigencies of the intellect demand satisfaction.

Clark,

And then there is the Ascension, Christi Himmelfahrt in German. So Jesus took off like a rocket and ended up in some region of spacetime? Absurd. So it has to be reconceptualized. Some sort of dematerialization perhaps.

A recent book by J P Moreland comntains a discussion of Orson Pratt, a name you are familiar with. Interesting character. Apparently Mormons distinguish between gross and subltle matter. If so, Spencer Case's claim that God for Mormons is literally a human being is perhaps not quite accurate. What say you?

Orson Pratt is interesting but also problematic. He thought he was philosophically sophisticated but was actually very philosophically naive, although highly influenced by Scottish realism. Moreland did discuss him but I didn't find the discussion fruitful since it ends up merely engaging with the weakest arguments of ones opponent rather than the strongest. (Moreland did note it was to generate discussion of materialism though so that aspect was fair)

With regards to Moreland I think the problem is equating Mormon materialism with the type of materialism often attacked in contemporary philosophy. (i.e. a denial of the irreducibility of first person) I don't think Mormon materialism should be equated with that reductive materialism. I consider myself largely a Peircean but also a materialist. However clearly Peirce held that firstness was an irreducible aspect of the universe.

Where Pratt is still influential in Mormon thought is more in his Leibniz like monads, albeit transformed into entities within space time. Now ontologically I am much more in Leibniz' camp that sees space-time as emergent rather than fundamental. I think Pratt was simply adopting the naive ontology of the physics of the 19th century where the container view was dominant. However I do think that to exist is to have a space-time phenomena. But that's a much more subtle position. Further as a Peircean I tend to adopt a Scholastic realist position towards generals. I think that's a fairly common view within Mormonism as well.

But theologically I think Mormonism actually is quite open to non-materialist ontology even if a thoroughgoing materialism of some sort tends to dominate Mormon thought. Theological Mormon materialism just is the view that spirits have place and time. It says nothing about whether there are other entities without place and time.

I neglected to answer your last question. To say God is like humans isn't too helpful unless one states what a human is like. Mormons tend to expand the nature of humans beyond what most other Christians do and definitely well beyond what crass physicalism does. So when say Evangelicals snidely attack Mormons for making God a human there is a fundamental equivocation going on.

For Mormons both God and individual humans have an essential uncreated core. While I don't know that everyone would agree I see a lot of affinity to Duns Scotus view of the ousia of God in opposition to the hypostasis with the Mormon view of uncreated beings. Of course there are some differences but to push the differences into clarity demands determining Mormon theology in a place where it is most undetermined. Individual Mormon thinkers may have theories about what this uncreated essence is. (Say Orson Pratt's problematic view they are atoms within space-time) But those aren't really orthodox views and are always considered speculative. Further not everyone agrees upon them. Some Mormons have even adopted the view that this essence of a particular human is largely an Aquinas like immaterial soul. That's fully compatible with Mormon thought and has been a major strain of Mormon theology.

Exactly how God in his past and humans in their present are similar is not something determined within Mormon thought. So you can find many different views. The most dominant contemporary view is unwilling to go farther than to say God the Father was fully like Jesus the Son in his mortal sojourn. Others are willing to go farther but those views are typically considered speculative, although Mormon thinkers do like to speculate on the matter. But technically I don't think one can press Mormon doctrine beyond the claim that the Father is fully like the Son. A claim that goes farther than mainstream Christian theology but not as far as Mormon critics like to place us. (Even if once again individual Mormons may indeed go farther)

BTW - absolute = unconditioned and in some cases unrelated. (Gives effects but is unaffected) My view is that there's an inherent problem in traditional Christian philosophical thought that wants God to be both unconditioned and conditioned. I think most of the major philosophical innovations are, in my view, attempts to think through this problem. (i.e. how Augustine approaches the godhead creating a rather unique transformation of neoPlatonism) I think it's precisely at the level of Christology that it fails.

The solution is to move away from the interventionist God which is what most thinkers did or to simply reject the absolutist elements as being about God.

Thanks, Clark. It is interesting that you and Spencer, though both brought up Mormon, have rather divergent notions of what Mormonism amounts to.

For the record: I am not now and nerver have been an evangelical. I have only recently become aware of the 'feud' between evangelicals and Mormons.

Correct me if I am wrong: When a Mormon uses 'God' he uses the term to refer to the latest in an (infinite?) series of gods each of which became god. If so, then Mormonism is a species of polytheism.

What do you think of this article by Frank Beckwith:

http://homepage.mac.com/francis.beckwith/LDSGreek.pdf

Mormons rhetorically use God to refer to the persons - typically the Father although sometimes Christ.

There's a fair bit of diversity within Mormonism. More than some critics like to admit although the strong critics are frustrated by this since they want static fixed easy targets. Mormonism inherently adopts a position of continuing revelation so it unabashedly is continually in change. As for Spencer and my distinctions I think one has to distinguish between orthodoxy which for a Mormon is what one ought belief and the dominant positions. I actually hold most of the dominant views but I'm aware enough of the diversity so as to try and present what I'd call the minimally acceptable Mormon theological beliefs. However it's also true that Mormonism is much more focused on people having an appropriate relationship with God and being good people rather than having correct beliefs. So theology simply isn't as important for Mormons as it is for many other Christians. Some have suggested we're perhaps closer to how Jews view theology.

Clark,

You didn't directly engage my question above, third paragraph.

Bill, I'm going to join your excellent discussion -- something like Bill and Clark's Excellent Adventure. To answer you question to Clark, I suspect that some Mormons do conceive of God as a person on a planet -- about the same way they conceive as God becoming man and residing on a particular planet (albeit ours). That is a pretty standard belief among Christians I would think. (I'm aware of the tortured history of two-nature christologies and various attempts to try to avoid having Jesus really be identical to God the Son). Regarding God having a body or living on a planet I usually think of it this way: does Jesus still have his physically resurrected body and, if so, where is it? In this context, the notion that God is both somewhere and some-when becomes inevitable -- unless Jesus is just a spirit and spirit is taken to just be something immaterial (whatever that could be -- and BTW many of the earliest Christians thought of spirit as a type of matter too.)

It is well established in Mormonism that the Father as well as the Son became mortal and was embodied at one time. However, the notion that God merely exists on a planet is mistaken since God is also "in and through all things" according to Mormon scripture. That God (both Father and Son as divine persons) is temporally and spatially located (even if not on a planet) in virtue of possessing a resurrected body is taken for granted in Mormonism.

I have argued against the interpretation of Joseph Smith that suggests that he taught an infinite regress of gods. It isn't turtles all the way down in my view, it is the one God who is the source of all order. However, as you know term "the one God" is very problematic. Sometimes it refers to the Godhead as the one, governing power over all things and sometimes to the Father and sometimes to the Son as agent or Word or angel manifesting fully the glory of the one God.

With respect to God's necessary existence, it is firmly established in Mormon thought that "God exists on self-existing principles" to quote Joseph Smith. Your argument that anything that is material cannot be necessary begs the question. You assume that in your argument, but it seems to me that it needs to be demonstrated. Mormons use the term "matter" in an extremely equivocal way -- the matter of which God is composed is conceived by Mormons to be very different from crass matter that we speak of in physics. Whether it is continuous with or a disparate category from what we take to be little particles of matter is not easily established either for Mormon or for physicists. I have a (very) long response to Stephen Parrish on this very issue. It used to be online but I just discovered that it isn't available (right now at least). However, your view begs the questions against the necessary existence of the universe and physical objects.

I'm not sure that clear things up, but at least you know there are different views among Mormons on these issues. BTW I have also responded to Francis Beckwith. You can find it if you're interested by clicking my name.

Bill: Here is a link to my response to Francis Beckwith that puts some of these issues into perspective from at least one Mormon's point of view -- mine: http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu//publications/pdf/review/634226456-8-2.pdf

Sorry - writing at work with limited time. So I sometimes come back to comments although I did answer most of it. Mormons just rarely refer to the father of God the Father. Indeed while the infinite regress of gods is the dominate Mormon view it is not a required Mormon view. Blake Ostler who wrote the book I think is the best formal theology book actually rejects the infinite regress of gods. That is the Father has no father. This gets at the point I made between the dominate view and what's required within Mormon theology.

In terms of scriptures Mormons are willing to say that rhetorically God can refer to any of the persons of the godhead (i.e. Father, Son or Holy Ghost) or to the Godhead itself. In that way it's not that far removed from the rhetoric commonly used by Trinitarians. (Contra Cartwright many Trinitarians have no problem referring to the persons as "a god" just that they don't think that's what the formulation is getting at) Now Mormons also note the use of god in places like Ps 82 and think the term is used more expansively in scripture. Further Mormons embrace divinization (which of course Eastern Orthodox do as well). However because Mormons typically reject creation ex nihilo that entails that divinization is much more robust than any Eastern Orthodox would be comfortable with. But if we are talking rhetoric rather than theology it seems undeniable that god has a more expansive range. Although I can fully sympathize with Eastern Orthodox critics who say Mormons sometimes quote early Church Fathers using the term expansively without dealing with the differences in theology Mormons hold.

The dominate Mormon use though is primarily a matter of convention going back to a doctrinal exposition from 1916 by the leadership of the LDS. However especially in the 19th century the terms were more fluid. So primarily Mormons only refer by God to God the Father who is the father of our spirits. It's fine to use the terms to refer to others such as Jesus, the Holy Ghost or potentially other beings such as in Ps 82 or even to the divine council as a whole. But when a contemporary Mormon uses the term God the are almost always referring to the person of God the Father and when they want to refer to what the Trinitarian formula has as the ousia they talk about the godhead.

Once again let me emphasize that this is much more a rhetorical issue rather than a theological or substantial one.

OK, to the final question about Beckwith. Blake already stopped by and linked to his response. It's an excellent response and my reply was actually just going to be that link. I should note that in many ways some of Blake's views are out of the mainstream. He rejects a robust foreknowledge by God and he rejects the common Mormon view that God the father had a father. I think both positions are allowable within Mormon orthodoxy but they certainly are a minority view. So keep that in mind as you read his paper.

I'd just add that I think many of Beckwiths problems with Mormon conceptions of God end up highlighting the tensions in the traditional Christology. That is in what senses was Jesus full God when mortal. Did the baby Jesus, for example, have full foreknowledge? Does it make sense for Jesus as human to be unlimited when it seems the very meaning of the incarnation is that God limited himself as a human. I think some of the criticisms seem more persuasive when they invoke them against the Father. When Mormons raise the question of Jesus I think the problems arise. It's just that most Christians aren't used to thinking of the Father in that way.

I think they have a lot of other problems but they end up simply reducing to the fact Mormons allow for limited knowledge of god and have a diversity of ways those gaps have been thought. That said I think Beckwith gets at the main difference between most Mormon views and most classic views: creation ex nihilo. I really think that most differences end up being tied to that and tied to applying Christology to not only the son but the father.

Thanks, Clark.

And thanks, Blake. A visit to JSTOR uncovered Howsepian's "Are Mormons Theists?" but also your response to him. A careful study of both should bring me up to speed on these issues. I will probably write a post evaluating your response to him.

Any articles you could recommend from the top phil of rel journals,e.g. Rel Stud, F & P, IJPhilRel?

BTW Bill, I think that have read everything you have written on divine simplicity, and I am still among those who believe that divine simplicity is just incoherent -- and doesn't come within light years of the various revelations of God(s) in the Judeo-Christian scriptures. Just how anyone could square divine simplicity with genuine distinctness of divine persons in the Trinity has always mystified me, but I have been interested in the various intellectual gymnastics attempting to do so. I'll by interested to see what you have to say about your take on the Mormon view(s) of deity.

Blake,

There are mental gymnastics on all sides of these issues. Although I haven't yet read your response to Howsepian's paper, I expect to find mental gymnastics there too. You will make distinctions, refine your theses, find formal or informal fallacies in his arguments, etc.

It is worth pointing out that if divine simplicity is incoherent, it doesn't follow that the Mormon conception of deity is coherent. They could both be incoherent.

I would add that my concerns are neither polemical nor apologetic. My questioning of anthropomorphic conceptions of deity is simply to get at the truth as far as possible, not to defend one worldview or attack another.

Bill - Perhaps one's mental gymnastics are just another's good philosophy. However, in my book, attempts to square divine simplicity with doctrines of the Trinity, christology and divine providence just seem transparently incoherent. There may well be a more moderate view of divine simplicity asserting that God is not composed of material parts (thus reducing to immateriality as it often did in the writings of the Greek Fathers) instead of a full blown doctrine that does not admit any conceptual or metaphysical distinctions in God's attributes or intrinsic properties, or property instances or tropes and so forth. I believe that your exposition is the best one there is of the most robust view of divine simplicity -- that is why it is the most worthy to be critiqued in my view.

You are of course correct that whether the doctrine of simplicity is coherent has no bearing on whether the Mormon concept(s) of deity are plausible or coherent. However, it does suggest that any cosmological argument that departs from the premises of divine simplicity gets off to a rather rocky start. I have no problem with your questioning the plausibility of anthropomorphism, but it must be rather starkly clear that such views are not intrinsically incoherent because we exist.

Clark,

I'm interested to know what your issues were with the McMurrin book. I have just regained a kind of detached, scholarly interest in Mormonism after a very long period when I was too angry about it to take that perspective. It may well be that there are flaws in it, but I was delighted to see Mormonism discussed at that kind of intellectual level. There's so much interesting going on with the radical metaphysics and theology of Mormonism. I was always intrigued by that as a kid and my earliest philosophical thoughts revolved around questions of Mormon theology. In the church, I always found this was discouraged. They adopted a "Delve not into the mysteries" approach. So, the McMurrin book struck me as a breath of fresh air, but it sounds like I don't have the same basis of comparison you do.


Bill,

I agree that what you defined as "Schmod" above is not something that most Mormons could accept. (Clark is right that Pratt had some unusual views on this matter, ones much closer to your own). I think Schmod is sufficient for God, but not necessary. Giving both necessary and sufficient conditions for God-hood is really tough to do, but I'm inclined that a Zeus-like entity who was supremely good and the sole object of proper worship could fit the bill. I am willing to concede that I can see how someone who is attracted to the idea of complete transcendence from the finite to the infinite might find this embodied picture of God unsatisfactory. Are you willing to concede, though, that it also has its strengths in terms of relate-ability?

Also, as far as the biblical stuff goes, if you're willing to write off anthropomorphisizing scriptures that seem completely straightforward as metaphor, why stop there? (Behold the straighforwardness of Exodus 33:11 "God spake to Moses face to face, as a man speaketh to his friend.") Maybe the atonement is a metaphor, too. In fact, maybe we should just read the whole thing as a work of literature.

Again, the point that initially moved me was the realization that human beings can understand what it is to be loved by a human being, but not by something meeting the definition of "Schmod" above. Anselm admits that God, strictly speaking, can't feel any emotion at all. That just seems awful to me, and inconsistent with the Biblical account. But maybe the thing to say is that there could be an immaterial God who could feel emotion and it would be more plausible than the Mormon God.


Blake and Clark,

Two of your longer comments got sent by the Typepad software to the spam box where they languished until I discovered them just now. I apologize for that. They now appear above in the order in which they arrived. I will have to remember to check the the spam dump for good comments -- or else you make your comments pithier. Pithy is good in any case. This is a fast medium: long swatches of text are less likely to be read than shorter ones.

Gentlemen,

This is a productive discussion. Busy now, I hope to respond later. Let me recommend to Spencer and Clark two Religious Studies articles easily accessible via JSTOR. A. A. Howsepian, "Are Mormons Atheists?" (Sept 1996) and Blake Ostler's response, "Worshipworthiness and the Mormon Concept of God" (Sept 1997).

Spencer, check out the reading club I did on the book. For a more positive response see some of the discussions at New Cool Thang. My main complaint is that he's trying to force Mormon views into popular categories. It's less trying to figure out Mormonism on its own terms.

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